Wednesday 3 January 2024

Hunger doesn’t take a holiday – Helen Robinson, City Missioner

1 January 2024


Helen Robinson, Auckland City Missioner – Manutaki


As 2024 begins, many of us around the country are enjoying our holiday, hopeful for what the year ahead will bring. As the Auckland City Missioner, I live in a permanent state of hope, exposed to so much generosity and compassion every day, yet I also see the reality for many people who hope simply for basic necessities of housing, health care and food.

I know there is a better way forward – where every person has enough and the hope within us all can be realised. The new year is an apt time to consider this as we reflect on what’s been and what can be.

With 1 in 5 New Zealanders currently living in poverty, compassion, generosity and hope are greatly needed. For those people, hunger doesn’t take a holiday.

They are our neighbours, friends and people in our community. They are mums or dads bringing up children on their own, and people caring for chronically ill family. Some are working, others are unable. They are people for whom there is simply not enough money coming in to cover their expenses despite being the most careful budgeters.

In the last year, Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai provided the equivalent of about 2.4 million meals to families and individuals in need. Every week, we and our partner organisations welcome about a thousand families to collect food. They can then fill their kitchen with the basic household essentials many of us take for granted – like fresh fruit and vegetables, pasta, rice, canned food and meat or alternative protein. At Christmas we go one step further because every child should be able to enjoy the magic of opening presents.

Right now, the Mission and likeminded agencies are preparing to do it all again in 2024. We remain hopeful despite knowing that demand continues to be high after the festivities of Christmas.

As the Missioner, I am proud that with the support of generous New Zealanders, we assist people who need help. I see people coming together – giving time, goods or money – with a deep belief in a country where everyone can thrive. In equal parts, I’m dismayed our support is needed and hopeful for a better future.

How do we as a country make sure that every year is one of plenty for every person in this country? How can we make hunger take a permanent holiday?

Fixing the systemic drivers of poverty is a government’s responsibility. There are so many issues causing poverty, for example education, physical and mental health, race relations, justice – the list is long. These are ‘wicked problems’ which are complex and expensive to resolve.

Yet each of us also has a role in helping every person in this country to live well. As landlords, employers, retailers and fellow citizens there are opportunities for generosity to be an everyday action.

For those people lucky enough to be employed but on low incomes, that’s often not enough for them and their family to eat well. Employees paid enough to meet their needs are more able to do their jobs well. I’m proud that at the Mission, we pay all of our staff at least the Living Wage. If you are an employer, please pay the Living Wage – the Minimum Wage is simply not enough.

Whether employed or not, the biggest expenditure of many people with low incomes is rent. We need more houses so people are not living in overcrowded or substandard homes and paying extortionate rent. Both government and private developers have responsibilities to make good houses affordable. Landlords have responsibilities to provide comfortable and affordable homes for families to live in. The Mission permanently houses about 200 people who would otherwise not have a safe and comfortable place to live. If you are a developer or a landlord, please make homes affordable.

Once rent is paid, weekly income quickly disappears on household essentials of food, electricity, basic clothing and petrol, plus repaying debt. Ours is an expensive country to live in – often cited in the top 20 – so for those in the business of selling, please consider what is a reasonable profit to make and pass on savings where you can to your customers.

For the efforts that are already being made by many in our country, I am grateful.

None of this is simple. Every statement above has layers of complexity beyond that which can be explored in a short newspaper article, yet there’s truth in it all. And behind every word, despite the starkness and hurt of the current reality, there lies hope.

Imagine when every New Zealander can take a holiday and enjoy a great year. Dream of a country where every person’s hope becomes their reality. Together this year, let’s take steps towards that, let’s be hopeful.